Thursday, November 28, 2013

Updating your priors after the Iran deal - no one's doing it

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone in the US and everywhere else. Seems like a good time to note we've found a way to step back from yet another war, a good thing to be thankful about. Political stuff below - please skip it if you don't want to deal with that on this holiday.

Moving away from war seems good, except to the Republican leadership, who see no success with the interim deal. They've forgotten that if somebody's trying to get something you don't want them to get, then delaying them is generally a victory for your side. And this is more than a delay - the highly-enriched uranium will be processed into an oxide form that is at least an additional step further away from being useful for a nuclear bomb. So six months from now, Iran will be (slightly) further away from a bomb than they are now, and with much more extensive verification. Seems preferable to me over an ongoing program of blowing up large chunks of Iran now and repeating every two or three years as a politically-united Iran rebuilds its nuclear program.

So not much learning on that side of the fence, but I'm not sure the left is much better. Juan Cole's been my go-to expert on the area (I suppose I should like his recent emphasis on climate but I don't think he brings nearly the value added to that as to the Middle East). He strongly supports the deal, but has also strongly opposed the sanctions that made the deal possible. His opposition stemmed partly from the valid argument that they impose real hardship on Iranians, but also from the very dubious claim that they make war more likely, and from the legally ridiculous assertion that western use of financial tools to block oil sales "is a financial blockade, and blockades are acts of war." Nothing in his recent posts indicate a reassessment of that position.

So everyone's prior assessment was right, and the new information about the success of the approach they had opposed doesn't change anything.

And then there's yours truly. I fell to somewhat to the left of Obama, repeatedly buying Seymour Hersh's statements over the years that the US was just a few months away from starting an air war in Iran. I considered it crazy to attack Iran, and contra Obama, that living with a nuclear Iran was better than a bombing campaign. I still think that's true, but the question is whether the threat of a potential attack added to the pressure created by sanctions to get Iran to this agreement.

It seems likely to me that the military threat helped more than harmed the process to agreement. Iranian hardliners may have welcomed an attack as a way to weaken internal opposition but they don't seem ascendant now. So maybe Obama was right about making the threat. Actually carrying through on the threat is a different matter - you are allowed to bluff in this game, although you need to do it carefully.

Anyway, as with the case with the narrow issue of chemical weapons in Syria, we're in something close to a best-case scenario. Thankfully.


Thomas said...

You have to keep in mind that blackmail comes with a price. Sure, hard financial sanctions and threats of a military attack may force your opponent to the negotiating table and force them to sign a treaty, but people tend to feel less bound by such "agreements" and they may come back and bite you later on.

It's all so unnecessary too. After the attack on WTC Iran expressed its sympathy and offered to help in Afghanistan since both Iran and USA dislike the Talibans. After USA toppled Saddam, Iran seemed to stop trying to get the technology to build nuclear weapons, he was the real reason they felt the need to have the capacity, but then US And Israeli belligerence made them change their mind again. Not to build a nuke, but to have the capacity if need arose.

Then we have all the hypocrisy with a bunch of states that do have nuclear weapons and have proven to be much more militarily aggressive than Iran portray Iran as the threat. When do we see similar sanctions against Israel for its nuclear program?

Anonymous said...

The agreement is for 6 months only.

This gives ample opportunity for the war mongers to find fault with any particular detail and proceed to the war, or at least, clamp down harder on the war crime of sanctions that collectively punish citizens for the unwanted behavior of their government.

(Note: congress may well do just that DESPITE the recent agreement, or so it is rumored.)

Nothing has changed, really, except that Iran has been further humiliated. (See Thomas's comment above.)

A definition for "nuclear Iran" would be good either now or in you next missive on the topic.

John Puma

cRR Kampen said...

On this I have one hint for y'all.
Coalition against wannabe tsarist, wannabe imperial, de facto fascist Russia. We simply NEED Iran.

Just for those who were that teeny weeny bit suprised at the about-face re Iran.

Dan Riley said...

As I see it, the neocons want to "maintain credibility" that the US is willing to use force even when it is contrary to our own self-interests--or, more succinctly, they want to convince the Iranians (and Syrians, etc.) that we're crazily unpredictable. Mutual self-interest is the foundation of diplomacy, so a credible unpredictability pretty much rules out meaningful negotiations (which, of course, is what the neocons want).

Regardless of whether the sanctions were a mistake or not, unilaterally easing them would just make us look more randomly unpredictable. Obama's challenge is to somehow match a rationally self-interested US policy to the initial conditions left by the previous administration; so far, he seems to be doing ok at that, but that could just be my priors talking.

Thomas said...

One thing that is often forgotten is that the research reactor that Iran need to enrich uranium for was made by USA, and when it was delivered it ran on bomb grade uranium. It was after the revolution the current regime had it modified to run on lower enriched uranium unsuitable for bombs.

Brian said...

Thomas and John P - what Dan said, that Obama faced the situation he faced. Arguing that Bush should've been competent is fighting the hypothetical.

As for hypocrisy, yes. Obama and Reagan were both right in advocating for a world without nukes (which is what I meant by a nuclear Iran).

The recent agreement gives Obama political cover to resist further sanctions. The sanctions seem to have worked at the level they're at.